F52 Fro Joy Set began with Gene Tunney, not Babe Ruth

Want to have some fun? Play a word association game with baseball card collectors and mention Fro Joy. If they happen to be a collector of pre-war cards, you’ll likely get one of three responses:

  • Ice Cream
  • Babe Ruth
  • Fakes

Let me explain.

Overview

Tunney Fro JoyThe F52 set is a 1920s sports card issue produced by an ice cream manufacturer called Fro Joy. It is commonly cited as a six-card set featuring Babe Ruth and is known to have been widely reprinted and forged.

What many collectors don’t know, however, is that the set isn’t only a Ruth issue and it didn’t even begin with the Babe. The F52 set actually began a year earlier with boxing legend Gene Tunney. Both the Tunney and Ruth issues were categorized by Burdick as F52 cards.

With Fro Joy as an ice cream manufacturer, Jefferson Burdick classified this as an F-Card, as he did with other ice cream issues and lumping it in with food-related sets. Specifically, he called it the Champions Series.

The F52 set is generally linked only to Babe Ruth. The Ruth issue was a six-card, oversized black and white set featuring the slugger. The cards are known for being heavily forged and a later, color reprint issue has confused unfamiliar collectors, too. They are popular but would be even more so if there weren’t so many fakes running around scaring people off. Even third-party graders PSA and SGC have run the other way and have stopped grading them.

Ruth’s cards were issued in 1928 and many collectors believe they are the only ones in the set. But the first F52 Fro Joy cards were actually created in 1927 featuring boxing Hall of Famer Gene Tunney.

Tunney Fro Joy 2

About Gene Tunney

Tunney was an extraordinary fighter and picking him as the company’s first featured subject of the series made perfect sense. At the time the cards were produced, he was the top heavyweight boxer in the world. While boxing today is not considered as one of the country’s big four sports, at the time, it had a much larger following, perhaps second only to baseball.

Tunney was one of the finest boxers of all time and in a total of 68 professional career fights suffered only one defeat – a defeat when he was not even knocked down. In fact, Tunney was knocked down only once in his career – in a fight with the legendary Jack Dempsey that Tunney himself won.

In 1927 when the Fro Joy Tunney cards were released, he was at the top of his game. His lone career loss was way back in 1922 and he’d been chugging along every since. He’d lost his light heavyweight title to Harry Greb but regained it from him less than a year later. Tunney not only beat Greb then, but in a second bout later that year. After piling up more wins, Tunney and Greb fought to a draw in 1924 before Tunney won a third and final time in 1925. He hadn’t only avenged his only defeat but shattered any idea that Greb as competent a fighter as he was.

Tunney had also moved up to a heavyweight and defeated world champion Jack Dempsey for the title in 1926. In 1927, the year of the Fro Joy issue, he defeated Dempsey again to retain the championship. He would fight once more, defeating Tom Heeney, before retiring. Simply put, he is one of the greatest fighters of all time.

Tunney Fro Joy Promotion

In 1927, Fro Joy created a special promotion to drive sales for a one-week period. From July 18th through July 23rd, the company offered a different card of Tunney every day with the purchase of a Fro Joy cone. The cards were black and white and included a special quote from Tunney at the bottoms where he discussed eating Fro Joy Ice Cream.

For example, the first card in the series has a quote from Tunney that says Fro Joy Ice Cream contains phosphorus, which is good for the bones and teeth. Other talk about how it is in his training diet. Every card features Tunney promoting the brand and includes pictures of him.

The idea was to get collectors buying the ice cream every day. That is evident from an offer made by the company where collectors could send in all six of the Tunney cards in exchange for an 8X10 Tunney photograph with a reproduction signature. Today, the cards are scarce and that likely had something to do with it. Many cards could have been redeemed and subsequently destroyed, greatly reducing the quantities still there today.

A Signature Goes Missing on Ruth Cards

28fj-4-ruth

The more popular Babe Ruth cards came along the following year. Fro Joy had a similar set up, distributing one card per day (that promotion was in August) with the purchase of a cone.

The cards are very similar in nature. Both feature black and white images of the subject and have text printed at the bottom. Both also have five cards with a vertical layout and one with a horizontal layout. Slight differences exist, though. Instead of a quote, the Ruth cards simply have a short biography or statement of the slugger.

The bigger change, however, was surrounding an autograph. While the Tunney cards had a replica signature, the Ruth issue does not. Personally, I think that there was a reason for that.

The idea was to get collectors to exchange their cards for a Tunney photograph with his replica signature. But in turn, they had to give up six of their cards that contained the same signature. Essentially, it would have been trading six autographs for one (albeit, a larger one). That may have sounded like a poor deal to some, who may have collected the entire set but still opted to keep the cards instead.

Fro Joy may have looked at that and considered that by including the Ruth signature on every card, they were devaluing them. After all, how special was a Ruth reproduction autograph if it was plastered on every single card? The Ruth cards in 1928 didn’t have that signature and that probably made the photograph that much more desirable.

Conclusion

When it comes to value, there’s no comparison – the Ruth cards are much more expensive, hands down. There just isn’t the same interest in boxing cards as there is in baseball cards. Tunney was every bit the star that Ruth was at the time but baseball cards are just collected by many more people.

But while the F52 Fro Joy set is often considered only a Babe Ruth issue, collectors should know that isn’t the case.

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